Interview with Ian Fowler of Bay of Fires Cheese
Could the secret to Australia’s best cheddar* be a simple combination of rainfall and sunshine? Sonia Cousins, cheese expert and AGDA Judge, caught up with 13th generation cheesemaker Ian Fowler of Bay of Fires Cheese, who moved his family to Tasmania in 2009, to find out.
You’re from England’s oldest cheddar-making family, so what made you choose Tasmania?
My wife Tracey bought me a big atlas about 12 years ago because she knew of my yearnings to start my own business. We just looked for somewhere with rainfall and sunshine and somewhere the grass would grow. And if the grass would grow, I could make cheese.
When did Bay of Fires Cheddar first go on sale?
I started making the cheddar in December 2013, and we didn’t start selling that until early 2015. We don’t sell anything under 12 months of age.
What are some of the differences between making cheddar in Tasmania and how you made it at Fowler’s in England?
One main difference is that I’m making cheese here with less equipment. It’s very much a hand-made product with the curd being cheddared by hand and salted by hand, and a lot of the equipment I’ve made myself. Also, in England the cows are housed for 6 months of the year, but in Tassie they are on pasture year-round.
What are some of the similarities?
The fact that it’s cloth-bound is the same as in England, and I also seal the cloths with lard. The whole approach is that which I was taught by my grandfather. I can really feel that tradition coming through now in the final product, and I’ve only really been selling the cheddar cheese for about a year. I’ve built up the cultures now on the pine boards, and they are now getting second cheeses put on them for maturation, whereas before the pine boards were new. The culture bases and the environment are all settling in and evolving.
Will the Fowler family name and cheesemaking tradition continue in Australia?
My son is 14 now, and he’s the only male in the family line [including in England] – so, we’ll see... but he’s not allowed to take anything on until he knows how to do it!
Bay of Fires Cheddar is distributed in Tasmania by Savour Foods, and in Melbourne by Savour and Grace. Demand for the cheese currently outstrips supply, but Ian is considering wider distribution in the near future.
*Bay of Fires won Champion Cheddar at the 2016 Australian Grand Dairy Awards